As you know, High Kick 3: Counterattack of the Short Legs (hereafter called simply High Kick 3) is a long-running series, with 120 episodes scheduled to air on a daily basis, Mondays through Fridays, for the next year. We generally don’t tackle long projects on this site, because I know from experience that it’s a huge commitment to undertake, and one that runs a high risk of burnout. And I hate starting things that I can’t finish.
But I loved the original series, aka Unstoppable High Kick, and decided that if I felt the same way about High Kick 3, I’d consider experimenting with recap format. So: Resident Running Man specialist gummimochi and I will be working together to cover High Kick 3 in a weekly wrap-up. Call ‘em weecaps, if you will.
For those of you new to Korean sitcoms, they are touted as comedies but really aren’t necessarily any funnier than a regular drama. They’re basically lighter family shows with loosely overarching plots, lots of characters, and short episodes. With episodes only running about 22 minutes long, I think the weecap format really suits this show better than the full-on recap style, because the slice-of-life plots can sometimes meander, or trail off without definite resolutions.
With that out of the way, let’s get this sucker started! (Note: Wednesday’s episode was pre-empted, so only four aired in the first week.)
SONG OF THE DAY
Sung Shi-kyung – “오 나의 여신님” (Oh My Goddess) [ Download ]
CHARACTERS & SETUP
Note: Unless I note otherwise, the characters’ names are the same as the actors’.
This is the Ahn family. Dad Ahn Nae-sang, Mom Yoon Yoo-sun, older brother (Lee) Jong-seok, and younger sister Soo-jung (Krystal). There’s a lot of bickering in the family, but they’re a mostly functional bunch. Mom and Dad might get into a shouting match over dirty shirts, for instance (as in their first scene), but a few moments later they’re making evening plans with cheerful faces. “Dinner at 7?” “Make it 7:30.”
Nae-sang owns a modestly successful special effects company that he operates with an old friend, though he’d probably be better off without the partnership. And that’s even before the friend runs off with money, bankrupting the company and leaving Nae-sang in the lurch.
Jong-seok is in his last year of high school, his university hopes riding on his athletic prowess as a hockey player — hopes that are endangered when the family no longer has money for university tuition. Soo-jung is one year younger and has a particularly close relationship with Dad; they’ve got a father-daughter fist-and-butt-bump just for the two of them. She has been studying in LA and comes home for a break, only to get stuck here thanks to the bankruptcy.
Yoo-sun’s two younger brothers are in their thirties, unmarried, and live together in a comfortable home. Older brother (Yoon) Kye-sang is a warm-hearted and thoughtful doctor who left his gig at a prestigious hospital to stick to his principles (amid a White Tower parody, heh). He now works with less privileged patients at a public health clinic, and has plans to go work in Rwanda for some time.
Younger brother (Seo) Ji-seok is the polar opposite, the quintessential dumb jock type, but with about triple the usual energy supply. He’s the type of guy who accidentally hammers his thumb, gets angry at the hammer, and decides to punish it by hammering it…with another hammer. So, not the brightest bulb. He’s a gym teacher at a high school, the kind of guy who punishes kids for infractions the old-fashioned way: boxed ears and rabbit hops. It’s amazing to see him as this loud, brash hothead when Seo Ji-seok just played cool, urbane, and uber-competent in Manny.
One of Ji-seok’s teacher colleagues is Park Ha-sun, a sweet-tempered Korean language teacher who makes Cinderella look like a manipulative bitch. Ha-sun’s fatal flaw is her trusting nature, which gets her taken advantage of left and right, though she’d rather maintain her faith in humankind to be good.
She lives with her cousin, Kim Ji-won, who lost her parents at a young age. Ji-won’s a second-year student at the same high school, and is (like the Yoon brothers) Ha-sun’s opposite: as shrewd as unni is naive, as able to manipulate as Ha-sun is manipulated. I’d probably fear a lot more for Ha-sun’s safety if she didn’t have Ji-won around, frankly.
Ha-sun is sunbae to Baek Jin-hee, currently in her third semester off from school because she can’t afford to pay the tuition. She tries to maintain hope, but it’s hard when her mother’s mired in debts back in their hometown and she’s two months behind on rent, constantly in danger of being kicked out. She needs to either scrape together tuition money or get a job, and this constant stress is wearing on her.
Jin-hee lives in a gosiwon, a no-frills boardinghouse typically home to starving students, like her cranky fellow boarder Go Young-wook. Gosiwon living isn’t the most pleasant circumstance, with the teeny rooms and the uptight hallmates, like Jin-hee’s studying-obsessed next-door neighbor who has a fit at the “noise” when her stomach grumbles. Young-wook’s current strife, aside from studying for the civil service exam, is catching the thieving bastard who’s been regularly helping themselves to his food.
Park Ji-sun and Julien Kang are two of the teachers at the high school. Ji-sun is a sardonic, unfriendly sort who barely has time to give anyone a second glance. Julien is the new English teacher with a love for Korean foods that probably surpasses the average Korean; he loves kimchi and traditional beverages of the kind that would remind you of grandma more than a handsome 20-something bachelor.
Then there’s Lee Juck, our sitcom’s narrator. The first episode starts off with a talk show 41 years into the future, with an elderly Lee Juck being interviewed for his hit novel Counterattack of the Short Legs, which is based on his younger days and contains the story of how he met his wife.
(This is an aspect that has viewers and media have accusing High Kick 3 of plagiarism, with its mimicking of How I Met Your Mother’s format. I don’t think you can quite call it plagiarism, but yeah, it’s pretty much ripped off from HIMYM, although I don’t really think it adds much to the narrative. In fact, I think the show would be better off without the gimmick, since it doesn’t make much of an impression and is told from the perspective a peripheral character, rather than, say, the main hero. Ultimately I don’t think it matters that much.)
Lee Juck is buddies with Kye-sang and left the university with him — Kye-sang left to make his big stand, but Juck just wanted to make some money. Alas, his job as proctological surgeon has him staring at butts all day, to his dismay.
EPISODE 1 WEECAP
It’s Yoo-sun’s birthday, and Nae-sang starts the day off by making dinner reservations for the wife (after first bickering with her in their usual fashion). Yoo-sun’s off enjoying a birthday spa day with her friends when Nae-sang receives notice that his friend and business partner has just skipped town, leaving the company completely dry and with loan sharks on the hunt to track him down.
Nae-sang hardly has time to digest this as he scrambles to run from the thugs, grabbing a dying old company van that’s heading for the junkyard. He drives madly around the city, collecting his wife from the spa, plucking Jong-seok out of a hockey-game pile-up, and grabbing Soo-jung at the airport. They barely have time for their special handshake/butt-tap before they’re (literally) on the run, forced to push along the sputtering car when the loan sharks track them down at the airport.
The family can’t go home because the gangsters know where they live, and Nae-sang’s credit cards have been frozen. With only a few dollars in Soo-jung’s wallet to buy them snacks, they find themselves roaming the back roads with nowhere to go.
In an effort to buoy spirits, Nae-sang insists on celebrating Yoo-sun’s birthday with chocopies, assuring the family that this is only a temporary glitch that will be fixed right quick. Soo-jung lights a firecracker as a birthday candle, which flies out of her hands and gives Dad a literal kick in the rear.
EPISODE 2 WEECAP
Yoo-sun suggests calling her brother Kye-sang for some help, but that’s a prospect that Nae-sang firmly opposes. He puts his foot down and decides they’ll travel down to Kyung-ju to his great-uncle instead, only to find upon arrival that the old man has died.
Left without resources or hope, Nae-sang finds himself sunken in despair and rushes into the sea, which feels like a Temptation of Wife parody but for the fact that it’s actually an emotionally charged scene and therefore not much of a parody at all. The family rallies around Dad, telling him that it’s okay even as he hangs his head, unable to bear looking them in the face.
The one upside in the situation is the laughter that bursts out when the family has to change out of their sodden clothes with only Soo-jung’s suitcase to offer in the way of dry clothing. Dad in frilly florals? Oppa in a pink crop top? Instant pick-me-up.
Back at school, second-year Ji-won deals with some obnoxious bullies who pick a fight with her when she stands up for a classmate. They trip her, then crow gleefully at getting a glimpse of her underwear. Unflappable Ji-won just gets up and asks the boys if they’d like more of what they’ve seen, and promises to come to school tomorrow wearing some really cute underwear, which gets them hot ‘n bothered and looking forward to tomorrow. Sigh, boys are so easy.
The next day, she makes good on that promise, though not in the way they’d been anticipating. She lets fly her high kick, knocking them down in one blow and saying cheekily, “I kept my promise.”
Gosiwon drama escalates when Young-wook finds more food missing — his precious beef! — and accuses Jin-hee of taking it, sniffing her shirt suspiciously. She’s insulted, since she’s relegated to eating her very boring rice and kimchi, and insists she’s innocent…until he sets up a camera and proves that she’s the midnight thief. Jin-hee realizes her sleepwalking is back and pleads with him to be understanding, but Young-wook insists on dragging her along to the police station…
EPISODE 3 WEECAP
The Ahn family runs out of gas, stranding them in Kyung-ju, flat broke and weak from hunger. Finally, Nae-sang resigns himself to the idea of appealing to his brother-in-law for help, and Yoo-sun calls Kye-sang. It’s one thing to stand on pride when you’re doing well for yourself, but when you’re essentially homeless, you realize pride won’t feed your family.
A curious local wanders by and asks if they’re beggars. The family takes affront, but Kang Seung-yoon isn’t meaning to insult; he’s just a curious kid with a quirky 4-D personality who hops from topic to topic and keeps the family on their toes and wondering if he’s a little unwell in the head. But Seung-yoon is a friendly, helpful sort; Yoo-sun asks him sarcastically if admitting they’re beggars means he’ll buy them food, and the next thing you know, he’s got them digging into piles of pizza and fried chicken.
Seung-yoon is the son of a local oriental doctor and freely shares about his fascination with ballet, his dream of being president, and his “dilemma” of whether or not to move up to Seoul — because, as you know, “The president lives in Seoul.” Ha. Jong-seok is too proud to accept Seung-yoon’s food (but too hungry not to try sneaking some anyway), which suggests to me that these two boys are just about to start their own beautiful friendship.
Demonstrating her overly trusting nature, Ha-sun becomes victim to a neighborhood “Burberry man,” aka flasher. Shocked and traumatized, she huddles in the street while the pervy ajusshi dances around her flashing his parts to the wind, getting off on her horror.
Ji-seok happens by to witness the scene and jumps into the fray with a failed high kick of his own. It’s enough to send the man running, though, and Ha-sun thanks him for his help. He tells her she’s way too timid, and offers to teach her some self-defense moves, urging her to try stabbing him with a pen so he can demonstrate a counterattack. He’s pumped up on that macho bravado while Ha-sun nervously tries to attack…
Cut to: Ji-seok lying in an ambulance car with a pen sticking out of his head. Pffffft!
Sadly, though, the rest of her day is less sanguine: She’s been put in charge of finding an apartment for the new English teacher, Julien (another example of people taking advantage of her niceness to foist off undesirable duties on her). At the real estate agency, she meets a homeowner who has an apartment for rent, and he convinces her to sign a contract on the premises, earning her sympathy with tales of a cancer-ridden wife. It’s only when she gets home and shrewd Ji-won asks a few additional questions that it begins to appear she’s just gotten hosed by a scammer.
Great news for Jin-hee, who gets called to a job interview. It’s for an internship at a large corporation, Samjin, and she’s thrilled. Alas, a snafu gives her no time to prepare and she fails to capture any interest in her interviewers, who tell her that asking her follow-up questions are a “sheer waste of time.”
But the Samjin president drops in to take a look at the interview process, regaling the room with a story about how very hard he worked when he was in their shoes, taking only 10 seconds to eat a jajangmyun lunch while others took an hour. Jin-hee tells him she can beat 10 seconds, and he’s impressed at her pluck, telling his interviewing team that if she can do it, she’s hired.
She does it, and she’s hired. Ecstatic, Jin-hee calls her mother and assures her that soon their debts will be paid, and Jin-hee will be able to move Mom to Seoul so they can live together.
Kye-sang arrives in Kyung-ju to a loudly bickering Ahn tribe, and he steps in with his usual diplomacy and institutes a rule to get them to explain the situation calmly. The only “talking stick” they’ve got on hand happens to be a prop wig, but who says that can’t work, right?
He hears the family’s complaints, then makes the executive decision: Come home with him, and then they’ll sort it all out. Phew, finally someone steps up to take control!
At the gosiwon, Jin-hee’s sleepwalking kicks in again, but tonight she doesn’t head for the refrigerator to steal food. Instead, she head outside in the dead of night, as though she’s reporting for her new job, and wanders into a gang drug deal. They have no idea who she is but figure it’s better to be safe than sorry, and move to grab her, just as she wakes up, sees the gangsters running toward her, and starts running in a flurry of confusion.
EPISODE 4 WEECAP
The Ahns relocate to the Yoons’ house, where Kye-sang welcomes them warmly and even gives an embarrassed Nae-sang an envelope of money as an allowance, knowing he’s too proud to ask. He tells Nae-sang to consider this his home, and offers that he’ll be calling him “hyungnim” now instead of the more proper “maehyung.” (Maehyung is the term he’s been using, meaning husband of my older sister, and is perfectly appropriate. However, with the formality comes a certain distance, and dropping that term in favor of hyungnim indicates closeness.)
Nae-sang is so moved that he sweeps Kye-sang into the adorablest back-hug ever, feeling grateful for his kindness and maybe a little guilty for their formerly prickly relationship. (Yoo-sun explains that Kye-sang had been initially opposed to their marriage, and Nae-sang has always felt a little miffed by that.) Now, though, Nae-sang sighs, “I love you, brother-in-law.”
But being a generous brother-in-law doesn’t come without its limits, and Nae-sang finds what those are later. He and his family have a few requests to ask of their host, and Nae-sang broaches the subject gently, asking for (1) a loan to get his business back on its feet, (2) some money to send Soo-jung back to LA, and (3) for the Yoon brothers to share one room, so that the Ahns can split the other two rooms.
Kye-sang listens to these requests with an open mind and wide smile, asks for a moment to consider, then comes back with three very warm, friendly rejections. Ha! Kye-sang has very sound reasons for his decision (if he lends additional money by taking out an additional mortgage, they could lose the only home they have, Soo-jung is better off staying here, and he can’t share rooms with his brother because of their differing habits), but this sends Nae-sang back into the sulks. Oblivious to his hyungnim’s change in mood, Kye-sang envelops Nae-sang in a reciprocal back-hug, thinking all is peachy-keen. Hee. I think I love them.
Ha-sun repeatedly calls the ajusshi who scammed her out of the deposit money, to no avail (he’s off gambling his new cash and scoffing at her stupid trust in people). At first she insists she’s going to believe in him and pray for his sick wife, but the longer this goes on, she has to face the facts and admit that he cheated her. She reports him to the police, but they don’t get any closer to catching him than she does. So now she has to contend with the newly arrived Julien, who’s still living out of a motel room while she has to find a new place, now out his deposit money. Gulp.
More bad news for Jin-hee as well, who heads to her first day on the new job with a spring to her step and great hopes for her future…until she’s spotted on the street by one of the gangsters from the night before. With half their numbers arrested, in part thanks to her screaming when they tried to grab her, the thugs are pissed, and they chase her. Scrambling for a hiding spot, Jin-hee jumps into a dumpster and misses her orientation start time.
She races to the office while the president addresses the new interns, and he takes note of the empty seat and asks who dared not show up on the first day. Jin-hee pleads with them to wait as she races into the building, and the president “generously” gives her another 10-second opportunity: Show up within that time and he’ll let this go. She trips just outside the door, misses her window, and is (literally) shut out. Worse yet, when she trudges home, she finds that her exasperated landlady has packed her bags and kicked her out. With nowhere to go, she goes to ask her sunbae Ha-sun to put her up for the night.
The Ahn/Yoon family starts work on converting a storeroom into an extra room when they have unexpected visitors: The loan sharks have tracked Nae-sang down to this house, and try to force their way inside the gates. Ji-seok tries to hold them back while Kye-sang heads out to deal with them, urging Nae-sang to remain out of sight.
Not too hard when the floor gives away on him, and Nae-sang tumbles down to the space underneath.
Yay for High Kick 3! I’d really wanted to cotton on to the second season as much as I did the first, but for some reason High Kick 2 never really got to me and I quickly dropped it, and I haven’t felt the need to go back. That’s why I was wary of getting too excited about the third season, lest it also disappoint. I find that sitcoms (and dailies) take a while to find their legs, because there are so many characters and relationships to set up that you can’t really get a feel for the show in one episode. I needed to see how it fared over multiple episodes before committing — so I was very pleased when I found myself liking it right away, and pretty close to hooked by the end of this first week.
The crux of a sitcom like this is in its characters and relationships. There’s really no “premise” to speak of, no high-concept storyline or one-sentence hook, so it’s all about the show’s ability to create likable (but amusingly flawed) characters with interesting dynamics and lots of relationship possibilities. (I mean that not just romantically, but in all senses, whether brother-sister, in-law-to-in-law, friend-to-friend, husband-to-wife.)
Admittedly, there are some glaring similarities with the previous shows, and there’s no getting around the fact that there appears to be emerging a certain “High Kick formula.” The hothead gym teacher pairing with the innocent teacher was also in the first series, and I see some repeated character types. But on the upside, I don’t see those similarities when I’m not looking for them — Ha-sun and Ji-seok, for example, are doing so well making these characters their own that I’m not thinking that they’re clones of Min-yong and Min-jung (even if their descriptions are).
There are a number of idols in this cast, but I wasn’t too worried about them because High Kick has historically done well with its youthful cast. The franchise is partly known for being a star-maker, but I’d say it’s just as much a star-finder — the distinction being that in the latter instance, some actors are just going to end up stars with or without this show, and its High Kick’s talent that it manages to find them while they’re young and fresh.
There are some standouts in the cast, but even more importantly, I’m pleased that there are no glaring duds. Yet. *crosses fingers*
Among these fresh faces, I’d put Baek Jin-hee at the top. She’s a pretty new talent, and has a few Drama Specials under her belt (and movies like Acoustic and Festival), but I suspect she’s going to be the real breakout here. She’s just so lovely to watch, with a natural and emotive quality that puts you right there with her character. She doesn’t act like she’s in A Sitcom, per se — she acts as the character in this circumstance, and the genuineness of her response is what makes her character so sympathetic.
Park Ha-sun also has that quality, although she’s much better-known and has much wider exposure (her role in Dong Yi being instrumental in gaining her name recognition). She’s got a Han Hyo-joo-esque quality to her, although I’d say she’s even better at conveying that sweet innocence — and she can cry on a dime.
Another new face to watch out for is Kim Ji-won as the smart-aleck high schooler, with the deadpan delivery and independent attitude. She’s almost like a female Jung Il-woo from the first High Kick, and I’m looking forward to what the show does with her.
But by far my favorite relationship? Hands down, it’s the conflicted brother-in-laws, alternately irritated and enamored of each other. Both are strongheaded, but in entirely opposite ways, and it’s going to be SO MUCH FUN watching Nae-sang trying to fit into his new position as not-quite-alpha-male. I’m all giddy with anticipation.
- High Kick 3’s family tree, relationship chart, and lovelines
- Official posters for High Kick: Counterattack of the Short Legs
- Promo photos and poster shoots for High Kick 3
- First look at upcoming sitcom High Kick 3
- High Kick 3 cast revealed
- Producers talk about High Kick’s controversial ending
- High Kick 2 fills out its new cast
- Unstoppable High Kick